People For the American Way

Trump Judge Strikes Down 55 Year-Old Minority Business Program

News and Analysis
Trump Judge Strikes Down 55 Year-Old Minority Business Program

Judge Mark Pittman, nominated to the Northern District of Texas by Donald Trump,  issued a nationwide injunction striking down the current federal Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) and requiring that the agency provide benefits to white businesses. The March 2024 ruling was in Nuziard v MBDA.


What is the background of the MBDA and this case?


President Nixon created the MBDA in 1969, and it has received bipartisan support ever since. The agency provides grants and other assistance to “socially or economically disadvantaged” businesses, explicitly including those owned by Blacks, Hispanics, Latinos, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Asians, or Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders. It operates a national network of more than 30 business centers, and was made a permanent agency by the bipartisan infrastructure legislation in 2021.


As part of far right litigators’ judge-shopping efforts, a Wisconsin group brought the case in Fort Worth Texas, where cases are assigned either to Judge Pittman or very conservative Judge Reed O’Connor. After granting a preliminary injunction against several MBDA centers, Pittman proceeded to grant a nationwide summary judgment order against the entire agency.


How did Judge Pittman rule and why is it harmful?


Based largely on the Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling striking down affirmative action in college admissions in SFFA v Harvard, Pittman ruled that the MBDA violates the Constitution. According to Pittman, the agency has “flagrantly” defied the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee “with impunity… for years. Time’s up.” He permanently barred the agency from considering and applicant’s “race or ethnicity in determining whether they can receive assistance.”


Pittman rejected several arguments by the Justice Department to defend the program. Justice pointed out that under the law, any business can “petition” MBDA to be considered socially or economically disadvantaged and thus has a “pathway to access” its services. Justice also pointed to “overwhelming Congressional evidence, compiled over decades,” that shows that members of the specified demographic groups “have suffered, and continue to suffer, social or economic disadvantage that stunts their ability to participate in America’s free enterprise system.” Pittman nonetheless ruled that the statute as written is unconstitutional.


What will happen next remains unclear. In light of the far right Fifth Circuit and Supreme Court to which any appeal of the decision must go, the prognosis for MBDA is not good. This ruling makes all too clear the continuing damage done to our country by right-wing judges appointed by Trump and others, and the need for confirmation of more fair-minded judges nominated by President Biden in our federal courts.